In Progress

Dedicated to Pre-Bebop Jazz Guitar

Disclaimer: All of the opinions expressed herein are solely those of Jonathan Stout, 
and NOT the Campus Five or Hilary Alexander


The realities of playing Acoustic Swing Rhythm Guitar

Here's a collection of thoughts that are culled from a discussion that can be found here:

Basically, someone (member 815C) asked about Freddie Green and whether he was close mic'd on the "Sinatra at the Sands" album. "Was he really that loud?" "Are you guys playing unplugged in a band? If So how do you mic it?"

Another member (Steve DeRosa), pointed out how he had played in a 30's/40's-style big band with a period-correct '47 Gibson L-7 strung up with heavy strings, and beefy action, and how he was able to do it without any amplification. He pointed out some of the hallmarks of Freddie Green-style voicings (only playing the D and G strings, no extra notes/extensions) are key to making it happen. 

I chimed in at this point, because although agreed with his suggestions completely, I felt it was important to point out that playing completely acoustic may not be a realistic possibility, even when you've got a period-correct guitar, set up properly. Here are some of my thoughts:


Steve's certainly right about using the proper voicings, focusing on the D and G strings, and using a loud acoustic archtop with heavier strings. And I do what I can to preserve the natural acoustic balance of 1930's-1940's music. I actually don't play anything except 30's and 40's stuff, so I really aim for a pre-bop feel for everything, rhythmically, harmonically, sonically, etc. 
That said, unless I'm playing in a really well designed acoustic space, I need a little help. Plus, not everyone has sidemen with similarly period correct gear, and as Michael at has written, the sonic properties of amplified bass and modern cymbals and drum heads are just not the same as old ones. Almost all of my gigs involve bass players with gut strings, vintage drum sets and cymbals with calf or at least calf-substitute heads - and it's a whole different thing. You might not be so lucky. And even if you are, you might still appreciate a little boost.

User Hot Vibrato then asked:

Slightly off-topic here, but I'm wondering if you could tell me a little more about drums and bass from that era. Were the basses all strung with gut strings back then? Was amplified bass even a thing back then? Calf or calf substitute heads? Where would one obtain those? The cymbals is the primary thing to my ears that makes the drums from those swing era recordings sound so much different from a modern kit. Are there modern offerings that can get that sound?

In response to his curiousity, I went overboard with a pile of information: 

Bass was not amplified at all until the 1950's and the birth of the solid body electric bass, but in jazz, not until a bit later than that. Gut strings were standard until about the 50's - although technically some gut strings actually gut core, with metal wrap, but those are still "gut" for the purposes of what we're talking about. The switch to metal allowed much longer sustain, and more legato walking jazz bass sound. Then, once the upright bass began to be amplified, it really allowed players to play as lightly, and legato as possible, and that completely changed the time feel and sound. I had a recording engineer friend tell me about the time he tired to mic the upright bass of a guy who always played with an amp, and even in studio, with decent isolation, he couldn't get a useable acoustic sound from him, and just had to use his pickup. 

As for drums, the modern mylar head has more frequency spread and a lot more volume than a calf head. Calf-style heads, stuff like Remo Fiberskyn, Renaissance, Skyntone, etc., or Aquarian's Vintage line, are intended to get more of the tone of old calf heads. Also, old drums weren't meant to be as loud as modern ones - think about it: a modern tama or whatever is designed to stand up to marshall stacks and fender twins, and drums are still the last thing to get mic'ed up. Cymbals, likewise have gotten way wider and heavier as volume needs increased. In the 30's 10"-12" hi hats were standard, now 13"-15" are standard. What we now call a splash cymbal (10"-13") was used for cymbal crashes, and the modern crash cymbal (14"-18") was what people used for a ride cymbal. Sure there are also modern alloys, but even among the "vintage"-style cymbals, there's not one maker producing a cymbal as lightweight as the set of 11" Zildjians that came with my 1941 Leedy Drum Set. 

Just like with guitars, there are modern people making things that are similar to vintage ones, but just like with guitars, it's not quite exactly the same thing. 

A modern Loar LH-700 is no 1928 Gibson L-5, but in many ways its a better substitute than a Benedetto-styled luthier built guitar. Those calf-substitute heads aren't the same as calf, but it's definitely closer than mylar. 

But again, even if you manage to assemble a period correct collection of instruments, you'd still need a reasonably acoustically responsive space. And people playing them with the sensitivity to balance to an acoustic piano. And you'd need an audience that was WAY quieter than people now. Back then, ambient noise just wasn't as intense as it is now, and people were far quieter in public. Sure, they did have a Mic for the singer in late 30's-40's, and occasionally some soloists, but you have to imagine that Charlie Christian was revolutionarily loud by having a barely 15-watt, open backed cab placed on a stool, and without being completely fuzzed out. 

Proper playing technique is important, and the voicings and time-feel are all inherently related to playing what is still an acoustic instrument. But, even when trying to preserve the style as much as possible, the practical realities of the modern world mean that throwing a clip-on mic into something like an AER is a very valuable possibility. 

Finally, one of my heroes, a guy named John Reynolds (an amazing amalgam of pre-war, pre-electric banjo guitar jazz, who's been doing only that since the 60's) took some lessons with George M. Smith, and also talked quite a bit with Roc Hillman who played guitar for Tommy Dorsey in the 30's and 40's, and both said the same thing: they were ALWAYS desperate for more volume, even then.

Finally, I felt compelled to delve into a history of comparative rhythm guitar styles, because I sometimes chafe at the use of "Freddie Green" as the stand in for ALL of Swing-Era Rhythm Guitar. So here's that:

One last thing.... 

Freddie Green is the "Kleenex" or "Xerox" of rhythm guitar, in that he's become synonymous with "four-to-the-bar" swing-style comping. However, it should be noted that he was not the only practitioner, and that the most distinctive version of his playing which came through starting in the 50's was not exactly what was done in the 30's. 

Listening to people like John Trueheart with Chick Webb in 1934, or Danny Barker, that they were playing 4 and 5 note chords, more like gypsy jazz style players still do. Charlie Christian can be heard playing similar voicings as well, even as late as 1941. It was probably George Van Eps (who played with Goodman '34-'35) who started to spread the three note voicings on the E D and G strings we know as Freddie Green-style. He taught Allan Reuss (who played with Goodman '35-'38) who perhaps perfected the style. 

There is a story in Steve Jordan's book about Freddie taking a lesson from Allan when he came to New York in 1937 and joined Basie's band. The Green family doesn't think that happened. Either way, I think it's probably fair to say that Reuss's Van Eps-derived voicings may have been an influence, whether there was a formal lesson or not. Given the number of personnel overlaps between Goodman and Basie members in various jams, recording sessions, etc., it seems unlikely there would not have been some interaction. 

But, while Allan Reuss was keeping time and holding together a band featuring the thunder god Gene Krupa (whose time was not exactly metronomic), Green was playing with Jo Jones, whose much lighter, flowing style was one of the things that made bebop possible. Between Basie, Green, Jones and bass player Walter Page, they developed a less chunky, less thumpy, more flowing sound. 

With the New Testament Basie era started in 1952, Green continued to evolve that flowing style with a what was basically a straight-ahead jazz feeling rhythm section, rather than the dance-band style one from the 30's-40's. He continued to smooth out the pulse, and start "walking" his voicings more like a "tenor line" to the "bass line", and pairing down to just one or two notes. 

As great as Freddie was, it isn't necessarily the only way to do it, and it can sometimes be the wrong feel for the music. The video I posted is of a whole evening of Chick Webb tunes we had transcribed from scratch, and it's probably the first time 80 years all but about 3 or 4 of those arrangements have been played by a live band. I kept trying to throw in a more flowing, Green-style, walking rhythm feel, and it just did not fit. That band was far more thumpy and chunky, and so a less smooth style was what was needed. 

Personally, Allan Reuss is my favorite, as is Goodman generally, and there's nothing like the heavier pulse of the 1937 Goodman band. You can hear Allan quiet audibly on these airchecks from 1937 - dig: ("Ridin' High" - fast) ("Sugar Foot Stomp" - medium up) ("You Turned the Tables on Me" - low medium)

Allan is definitely not hitting the B string, unlike Django or Charlie or John Trueheart. And most of what you can hear is the projection of the D and G strings. But it's not as "linear" as what Freddie would've done. 

Allan never played an 18" guitar, and what you're hearing is a '36 or '37 Epiphone Delxue, because he didn't switch to an L-5 until late 1937 (he had one at Carnegie Hall in Jan 1938, though), and he apparently kept playing the 17" L-5 the rest of his career. He also played a 16.5" Epi Deluxe until 1936 or 1937. It's hard to tell when he changed, but he definitely had a white-guard 1934 Deluxe when he joined Benny in 1935, but by the 1937 movie "Hollywood Hotel", he was playing a 17" Deluxe. 

And the last thing about Allan to note, is the he was one the very best swing-style chord-melody soloists ever, and he DID take solos. Unlike Freddie who almost never soloed (except see at 4:30), Reuss was called on regularly to do so. He couldn't exactly play with Freddie's famously high action, but then again, Freddie probably didn't have action that high in the swing era either. And I doubt that in 1957 it was as high as it was in 1977. 

Compare Freddie here at 2:25 from 1940:

It's not quite as punchy, and the band is far smoother. Jo Jones hats are smoothing out the pulse rather than bouncing it. 

And then compare 1956:

The bass WAY more legato and sustainy, and there's no feeling of the bass drum pounding out time. And Freddie's pulse is NOTHING like the 30's or 40's stuff. Now the older stuff would still appear, in say this faster tune from the same 1956 record:

During the head you can hear thumpy, distinct quarter note pulse form the bass, and Freddie is pulsing right with him. But once the solos start, and the drummer moves to the ride, it completely smooths out into legato striaght-ahead jazz.

While these are less organized than a proper article, I wanted to present them because I think it is useful information. 

Lastly, coincidentally there was another thread right around the same time about mic'ing acoustic archtops, and I provided a bit of an update on the state of my gear with some suggestions. I'm long overdue for a post detailing my updated set up, but here's a bit of a preview:

Yeah, a magnetic pickup will never get you the proper timbre or decay of an acoustic archtop. I've tried most of the piezo/contact transducers (K&K), and I've never liked the sound of them at all. 

I have had great success with using a lavalier mic/clip on gooseneck combination. Initially there was a sound guy who wanted to put an Audio Technica Pro35 clip on mic on my sax player, but my sax player was deadset against because part of his technique was "working the mic" (sadly this soundguy didn't really understand the concept of the band making its own dynamics, ugh). Anyway, I tried the mic on my acoustic archtop (an Eastman 805 non cut at the time), and it was fantastic, and very convenient. Previously, I used mic-stand mounted small-diaphragm condenser, and it was an eyesore, running every picture of me playing, but it also was very impractical. 

The key thing with such a clip-on mic, is that you NEED some kind of "mute switch", since there's no volume knob. Otherwise, no matter where you turn, or put the guitar down, there's a relatively sensitive microphone always on, waiting to feedback should you turn the guitar the wrong way. We guitar players, especially those of us who grew up electric players are used to having someway to turn our instrument off between songs, while flipping pages, when changing guitars between songs. A simple XLR mute switch is essential.

Second, monitor placement is crucial. It turns out that, if I set stage left, a monitor on my left pointed straight down the line of my guitar neck is totally off-axis to the mic, and keeps the top of the guitar from reflecting the monitor into the mic. If I'm not going into a sound system with monitors, I use an AER Compact 60 positioned behind me, and to the left. By putting my body between the guitar and the amp, it goes a long way to isolating the mic from feedback. 

I've used the AT831b mic with an AT8418 gooseneck for over 100 gigs, and it's worked great. I've since upgraded to the DPA4099C - which has a cello mount that fits on to the strings between the bridge and tailpiece - and the sound is superb and the mounting ideal. That said, even the lesser Pro35 was still a huge improvement in practicality over anything I tried before AND it sounded great. 

I used the very simple and cheap Rolls MS111 XLR mute switch for almost 3 years, and have only recently upgraded to the Whirlwind MicMutePX. The main difference is that the Rolls111 has no indicator light, and since the DPA requires phantom, the most practical thing is to have the mute switch provide it. (FYI, Rolls doesn't block phantom when it mutes, so the mic isn't being shocked on and off constantly, but merely the audio is being cut - works great when it's just mic->rolls->AER).

The bonus version of my rig is that I will add an A/B box after the mute switch, and send each line to two separate channels on the board - one set for rhythm volume, and one boosted for solos. I've used a Radial ABo box, though being passive it had occasions where it popped through the speakers, and since there was no indicator light, it was too easy to confuse which channel I was playing through. I since upgraded to the ProCo Panic Button, which provides silent switching and an indicator light. 

Once you add in the A/B box, the issue of phantom power becomes a bit tricky because it's probably not a great idea to send phantom from both, and depending on the A/B box, there's a question of whether it will even pass the phantom through on both or not. One advantage to the AT831b is that is comes with an inline battery pack, so it can power itself. Since adopting the MicMutePX, it provides phantom for my DPA and blocks all phantom coming before it. 

Like with any microphone, placement is huge. I place it about an inch off the top, pointed more or less straight down, in the area between the strings and the treble f-hole, avoiding the f-hole because it just adds too much woofy-ness, and that's feedback city. 


Chord Melody Arrangement: "Moonglow"

"Moonglow" is one of my favorite ballads, and given it's link to Willie Desatoff, it's also important to the swing dance community, particularly the balboa community. 

Personally, I doubt it's ever been played any better than by the Benny Goodman Quartet in 1936. Take a listen:

While I know I'll never come close to the magic created by Benny, Teddy, Lionel and Gene, I did want to be able to render the beautiful tune when playing solo guitar. I came up with this arrangement a while back, but there are a couple streches that have taken a while to get under my fingers. The solo section was just ad libbed as I was recording it. Anyway, I hope you dig it. 

And as requested by my friend in São Paulo, Cleber Guimarães, here's a notated version of my chord melody arrangement:

Click here to download a PDF: Moonglow - Chord Melody - PDF


FYI - I've heard some people have been having trouble with the youtube audio - I can't explain why, and there's nothing I can do to fix it, and it plays fine for most people - so I've also uploaded to Vimeo: 



Jonathan featured in Norm's Rare Guitars Video

From time to time, I drop into Norman's Rare Guitars in Tarzana. Occasionally, I buy things like my 1932 Gibson L-5. This time, they were kind enough to ask if I'd do a little video for them and one of the 16" L-5's they had in stock. Norm's youtube channel features drop ins from a huge number of world-famous guitar legends, so it's a great compliment to be among them. 


(Technically, I've played 4 different Stromberg Master 400's in my life, all of them in the last year, three of them were at Norm's, and 2 of the three at Norm's were there at the same time. TWO Master 400's in ONE store - jeebus!)



Review: Studio Slips Padded Amp/Gear Covers

About 9 years ago, I noticed how much wear and tear my 1939 EH-185 was taking, just being loaded and unloaded from my car every gig. With a bit of research found that there were any number of people on ebay that would make custom amp covers to order. But, when I found out about Studio Slips, I could tell these were another level above what I'd seen on ebay. It took me 5 months of cyberstalking their website before I finally bought one. I opted for the "Padded Slip Cover" model, with "double padding", in brown, with a pocked added to the back. Even with those upcharges, it was $115.00 plus shipping. 

I don't think I could really appreciate how great it was until now. Sure, it looked nice when I got it. fit perfectly, and was surprisingly well padded (I've always gone with the "double padding" option). But it was only today when I realized that the cover was NINE YEARS OLD that I realized how great a job the cover has done protecting my 77 year-old amp. 

This is as the amp and cover look TODAY. Other than a little fraying on the stiching of the logo patch, and a bit of dust, there's little indication that the cover has accompanied that amp from gig to gig for nine years, and it cost only a little over a $100! Wow. 

The main reason I came upon this astouding realization today was because a new cover arrived for my Vintage '47 Amps VA-185G. I went with exactly the same options, it only ran $110.00 plus shipping, and it fits like a glove. The amp was already starting to show a bit of discoloration on the tweed, so I'm stoked to have a cover for it that will keep it looking great, and provide a good bit of impact protection and shock absobtion. Of course, it's not the same as a hard-sided road case, but it also only adds a tiny bit of size to the amp itself, which for most gigging situations, is a lot more practical. (Oh, don't mind the wrinkles, I literally just pulled the cover from the box and threw it on the amp).

Now, in 2010 I order another Studio Slip case, specifically a "Briefcase Gig Bag" to carry the amp head of the EH-185 separately outside of the cabinet. This was also a great product, however I don't use it anymore. Ever since I had my amp guy reinforce and reglue some parts of the EH-185 cabinet, I've just decided to keep the head in the cabinet, so I don't need a separate case. The case is packed away somewhere, but it worked great for it's intended purpose. Heck, the only thing I didn't like about it was that I accidentally ordered one in black, and it didn't match. 

I highly recommend Studio Slips padded covers for protecting your amp, and I've been using them for nine years. They're great!


Happy 100th Birthday, Charlie Christian - Part 2

In further celebration of Charlie Christian's 100th Birthday, I've got a couple of things to share with you. 

First, I was made aware the Leo Valdes' Charlie Christian Website, Solo Flight is BACK UP at a new web address: - nice domain name, if you ask me! There's a bunch of transcriptions, as well as exhaustive biographical and discographical information. One thing to be aware of, Leo holds an alternative view of Charlie's fingerings and shapes, so some of the transcriptions are in decidedly different positions, than say the Garry Hansen one's (which are mostly the same as the Wolf Marshall Transcription Books available from Hal Leonard and this one)

Second, I've been talking with Garry Hansen, and there's a chance his website may be coming back as well, so stay tuned for that. 

Third, here's a bit more of my woodshedding on Charlie stuff, a bit of "'Til Tom Special": 

Again, I'm using my Vintage '47 VA-185G amp. I've been really pleased with it's ability to nail the essential character of my old '39 EH-185, while being half the weight (~20 lbs.), under $1000 new, and solid, new construction. Is it exactly the same? No. Is the circuit an exact duplicate of an EH-150 or EH-185? No. But it sure gets into that zone. 

Anyway, I'm thinking of really focusing on Charlie Christian for the rest of the year, so I hope to provide you all with more as we go along. Cheers. 


Happy 100th Birthday, Charlie Christian

This Friday, July 29, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth the "Genius of the Electric Guitar", Charlie Christian. I'm planning a great show at Clifton's Cafeteria in Downtown Los Angeles this Friday (you can find the facebook event page with details here:, and in anticipation, I've been doing a lot of woodshedding. I figured I would share some of that with you guys in honor of the great Charlie Christian. (By the way, both video showcase the Vintage 47 Amps - VA-185G amp, modeled after the Gibson EH-185, used by Charlie Christian). 

"Flying Home" 


I'm planning to add to this throughout the week, so check back. 

Here's the flyer for Friday's show, in case your in the area:


Happy (Belated) Birthday, Allan Reuss!

I meant to get something up yesterday, but I didn't have a chance. As luck would have it, it worked out because thanks to Matt Munisteri, who shared this yesterday on facebook, I get to share with all of you a new discovery - a great Allan Reuss performance with a great solo that's never been released on CD. And even

bigger thanks are owed to Tohru Seya who's posted an amazing collection of rare 78's, including this new Reuss solo, as well as several other great recordings featuring Allan Reuss. 

Here is the information provided by Tohru Seya:

You Know It
Corky Corcoran and his Orchestra
Mercury 1097 (mx HL-96-5A-25)
Emmett Berry(tp) Willie Smith(as) Corky Corcoran(ts) Dodo Marmarosa(p) Allan Reuss(g) Ed Mihelieh(b) Nick Fatool(d)
Los Angeles, May 15, 1946
EQ: 500Hz/-12dB

Allan's solo is first up after the head, and, wow. Classic Allan Reuss chord melody soloing. There's not much I can say, except "wow". 

Also, of note, I just picked up some Harry James airchecks from the mid-40's that, if the liner notes/discography is to be believed, features Allan Reuss taking some single-string ELECTRIC guitar solos. Also, there appears to be a live version of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" where somebody beside Allan Reuss is having to play at Allan's chord-melody interludes. I'll try to get those posted soon. 

Lastly, one of my obsessions lately, has been the brief period in 1943 where many of Benny Goodman's best almuni returned to the band all at once. Reuss, Jess Stacy, Hymie Schertzer and even Gene Krupa (following his 1943 pot bust) all rejoined the band for a short period of magic. 

Here's perhaps the most blazing performance that was captured, a redux of Fletcher Henderson's 1936 arrangement of "I've Found a New Baby". This 1943 performance is absolutely ferral - so intense!

An MP3 album, Benny Goodman - "The Forgotten Year 1943" is available from for $7, but since it's a digital download, there are no liner notes. Also, the sound quality is fair to pretty terrible tune-to-tune. Still, several of the tunes are revalatory! 


Upcoming: Jonathan Stout Clinic on Allan Reuss

Have you been digging on Allan Reuss? Now's your chance to check out a live, in person clinic all about Allan Reuss-style chord melody and rhythm guitar playing, followed by a concert with Jonathan Stout and Casey MacGill. It's all part of our good friend Tommy Harkenrider's Blues and Roots Guitar Clinic Series. 
And we can't leave you with a little Allan Reuss to get you inspired:

Tommy Harkenrider's Blues and Roots Guitar Clinic with Jonathan Stout

Jonathan will be teaching and talking about chord melody/rhythm guitar style of Allan Reuss!
The Beatnik Bandito Music Emporium
417 N Broadway - Santa Ana 
$25 - 2pm-4pm
Facebook event page 


Swingin' Strings at the Beatnik

The Beatnik Bandito Music Emporium
417 N Broadway - Santa Ana
$15 - 7pm
Facebook event page 


A Tale of Two "Paper Moons" 

Here's just a little comparison to show the different flavors and tone colors available within the pre-WWII swing guitar range. 

Here's an example of a solo version of "It's Only a Paper Moon", in the Allan Reuss/George Van Eps-style:

And here's an example of some Charlie Christian-style electric, single-note playing on "It's Only a Paper Moon" over an acoustic Freddie Green-style swing rhythm guitar track:



"Frosty the Snowman" - Allan Reuss-style Chord Melody, with transcription

Here's something to get you in the holiday spirit, "Frosty the Snowman" with a Chord Melody in the style of Allan Reuss. The changes here a quite simple, and the voicings I ended up with are often triads, which just goes to show more extensions is not necessarily better. This tune also has several spots where the melody arpegiates up the chord tones over a single chord, and these were good opportunities to jump the voicings up or down accordingly, just like Allan Reuss would do, rather than hold the same bottom voicing for more than a measure. 

FYI, I've strung my L-5 with Martin Retro Monel strings in the Tony Rice signature gauge (i.e. 13's), but have swapped the high E and B with a 14 and 18, as is my usual. Unlike my usual videos, this was shot with an iphone 6, instead of the internal webcam of my Macbook and a Blue Yeti USB microphone. 

Finally, here's the link to a print-able PDF file: Frosty - PDF


2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Since it’s almost time to hang those stockings, I figured I’d give an updated list of some of my favorite Swing Guitar-related items that make suitable stocking stuffers. I’m sure we want Santa to leave a D’Angelico or a Stromberg under the tree, but these are all things Santa might actually be able to pull off. 


While many of these are available as mp3s or what have you, I find that many of these come with liner notes. Good liner notes give you the personnel and dates on each song, and often a nice critical explanation of the tunes. I’ve bought many things digitally, only to have to scour the internet to find out who was playing on a given session. Digital is better than nothing, but I always try to hold out for something with liner notes when I can. 

Charlie Christian - The Genius of the Electric Guitar

The very best collection of Charlie Christian in the studio. Edited takes have been put back to their original state, and the remastering is excellent. One example is how on “Sheik of Araby” you can really hear the pitches of Nick Fatool’s tom-toms, instead indistinct thuds. The rehearsals and jam sessions on disc four provide a window into the real people involved, instead of just picturing them as 2-dimensional black and white photos. It’s out of print, but it’s worth searching out for this box set, no question. Plus the damn box is fashioned after an EH-150 amp! How can you resist?!

Swing to Bop: Guitars in Flight 1939-1947 

This is a fantastic collection of some more obscure players and tracks. There’s some wonderfully Django-influenced early Les Paul, as well as some really jumpin’ Mary Osbourne, one of the first players to be influenced by Charlie Christian. Her version of “Rose Room” is so badass. There is also some of the George Barnes Octet stuff, and some great Tony Mattola small group stuff. Perhaps my favorite track, unavailable anywhere else, is Carl Kress and Tony Mattola playing “Davenport Blues” live on some radio show. The spoken introduction is priceless, and the tune is even better. 

Very Best of Swingin’ Jive Guitarists

I’m not going to lie, I basically bought this one just for one song, “I Never Knew” by Peck’s Bad Boys, featuring one Mr. Allan Reuss. I don’t believe there is another CD issue of that track anywhere. But, there’s a ton of other good stuff on here from Bernard Addison, Al Casey, Eddie Lang (in the context of a band, not simply solo), several other lesser known guitar players, and even the reclusive Snoozer Quinn. 

Benny Carter - The Complete Benny Carter (Keynote) 

The Arnold Ross Quintet Sessions with Benny Carter are some of the very best examples of Allan Reuss’ playing. More over, there are multiple takes, which is wonderful insight into what parts and phrases were worked out and which were improvised. Some of the other collected tracks featuring an unidentified electric guitarist of interest as well. 

Django Reinhardt: Jazz Tribune, No. 39: The Indispensable Django Reinhardt, 1949-1950

While far from an exhaustive survey of Django Reinhardt’s playing, this two CD collection of 1949-1950 contains some of my favorite recordings of Django. There’s both some acoustic playing and some great electric playing. Among the great tracks, it contains one of my favorite Django tracks of all time, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”.  


These are problem the three most essential books on swing guitar playing.

Swing and Big Band Guitar: Four-To-The-Bar Comping in the Style of Freddie Green - Charlton Johnston

For all my complaints about it, this is still the most authoritative book on the subject of Freddie Green style playing. I highly recommend the chapter on inversions, since that is where one can learn to “walk” voicings up and down the neck. Just don’t bother listening to the example CD, because it’s straight-ahead jazz dreck. 

Swing to Bop: The Music of Charlie Christian - Stan Avyeroff 

The exhaustive resource of Charlie Christian transcription is the best available on the subject. There’s no tab, so you;ll need to work the fingerings yourself. Once you have a firm grip on Charlie’s patterns, that becomes easier to do. 

Ivor Mairants: The Great Jazz Guitarists, Pt. 1

I’m a little wary of revealing one of the best resources I’ve ever found for pre-war jazz guitar playing. I felt like keeping it secret for a long time, but I have to share. There are transcriptions of Allan Reuss, Oscar Aleman, George Van Eps, Carl Kress, as well as multiple transcriptions of Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, DickMcDonough, Teddy Bunn, Django Reinhardt, Eddie Durham and Charlie Christian. Plus there’s some interesting analysis of the change from the Eddie Lang/Lonnie Johnson-era - the “First Guitar School”, to the “Second Guitar School” of McDonough/Van Eps/Kress and the rest. Fascinating stuff!


These are just some favorite accessories that might make a good stocking stuffer.

K&M Heli 2 Acoustic Guitar Stand 

My favorite gigging guitar stand. Foldable, light, but very steady. Although the surfaces are not certified to be non-reactive with nitrocellulose lacquer, I’ve never seen any reactions, and I only use them for stage use, so I doubt I ever will. The only downside, for me, is that the recessed tailpiece jack of my ES-150 requires a stand with greater ground clearance (for which I have a Hercules model that holds the guitar by the neck).

Dunlop Primtetone 1.0mm Standard Sculpted Guitar Pick (w/o Grip)

Primeness have become my new go-to, everyday pics. I really love Blue Chips, but they are also $35 a pop. These Dunlops are only a little more than a dollar, and give much of the same feel. I find I like them better the more they break in. For harder-playing gigs, and for anything where I need to mitigate treble, I still reach for a 1.2mm Wegen, but for day-to-day playing, it’s hard to beat the 1.0mm Primetone. I also keep a couple Primetones in heavier gauge around for variety. Be warned there is also a model of the same name WITH a grip, and that is made from a completely different plastic - those are cool too, but definitely not as much like a Blue Chip. 

Snark SN-8 Tuner

A guitar tech friend of mine coined a turn of phrase I really loved, and I’ve repeated many times since: “The Snark: for when close enough is good enough.” He was joking about the use of something like a Snark for fine tuning intonation, which is clearly a job for something much more sensitive, like a strobe tuner. But for day-to-day tuning, and quick on-stage tuning checks, the Snark is more than sufficient. But almost more importantly, the price point for a Snark is so low, that loosing or breaking them isn’t the end of the world. They work well enough, they’re much easier to read than some of the budget, cheapo tuners out there, and they’re dirt cheap. I always have a bunch lying around, and when I start to notice I’ve misplaced one, I just order another. 

Just Strings: Bulk Strings 

If you’re like me, you might use a particular set of strings, but feel compelled to bump up the gauge of the high E and B strings. Problem one is that it leaves you with quite a few extra E and B strings in gauges you might not want. But the much bigger problem is needing an extra single string of both the B and E in the designated gauge. Plain steel strings are basically fungible, and the brands are basically the same, so you go with any brand of single string - D’Addario, Ernie Ball, whatever. And you’ll need to pack some individually wrapped single strings with you for gigs, in case you break a string on the gig. But at home, I tend to buy a pack of a dozen single strings from Just Strings in 13, 14, 17 and 18 gauges, and leave the individually packaged single strings in my gig bag. The Just Strings bulk strings come by the dozen, bagged in a long vinyl pouch. Just find a poster tube or something to store them, and you’re set. 

Belkin 6-outlet Surge Protector with Rotating Plug (8 ft)

It seems dumb put something as fungible as serge protector on this list. After all, unless you’re looking at something that has real protection, or line conditioning (ala a Furman or something), one office supply store surge protect is as good as another right? Maybe, but the benefit of the Belkin suggester here is that the plug head rotates for more options when plugging it in, and it has an 8 foot cable built-in. I can’t tell you how many times the cable from a normal surge protector almost, but didn’t quite reach to where I needed it to be, resulting in me daisy chaining multiple surge protectors in a row. Using the 8 foot Belkin has kept me from breaking out an extension cable in months. Of course, there are still times you’re going to need a 25- or 50-foot extension cable, but for so many stages, the 8 feet attached to the power strip is more than enough.

Monoprice XLR Cables
25 ft cables
50 ft cables

About 2 years ago I tried out moonrise XLR cables. Based on the high quality and low price, I eventually replaced all of our XLR cables with them. A couple of our mics where particularly sensitive about certain cables and certain jacks being ill fitting, causing a lot of pops and cutting out. Once we switched to monoprice, we never again had these kinds of problems. I also order a bunch of shorter run XLR’s for connecting my Lav Mic->Mute Switch->A/B Box combo together, before using two longer XLR’s to send to the board. If and when they eventually wear out, the low replacement cost still has you ahead of the rest. 


Flight Case Blues: Cracking Canadian Calton Bumpers - FIXED with Sugru

The previous owner of my '32 Epiphone Deluxe had a Canadian-made Calton Case custom-built for the guitar, and once I bought the guitar, I just had to buy the case for it too. For those unfamiliar, Calton cases are considered the standard in flight cases. They are generally custom built to fit your specific guitar (though models in standard shapes are generally available), have a fiberglass shell and are designed to be checked over and over again for years and years. The main drawback is that the cases are pretty friggin' heavy - schleping one on my back around NYC did kind of suck. Still, I can check the thing and not give it a second thought. The extensive padding fully isolates the guitar from impacts, even with airline baggage handlers doing their worst.

Originally made in the UK, a Canadian franchise was opened for North American sales, but eventually, after a couple of years of poor customer service and trouble keeping up with orders, the Canadian company folded. Recently, an Austin-based US Franchise has resurrected the brand, and all indications are the cases are better than ever. But, since the US company has no relationship or responsability for the Canadian cases, it means there is basically no service or support for the older cases. 

One of the design changes from the Canadian cases to the new US ones is a switch away from plastic or rubber bumpers, because the ones they used tend to get brittle and eventually crack, finally falling off leaving an unprotected screw that can catch on things or get bashed into the guitar. 

I was able to find some information on one Canadian dealer who was still providing replacement bumpers, but even after he kindly sent me some (for free! what a guy!), more of them fell off, so I was still left with some unprotected screws. 

Eventually it occurred to me that Sugru might work. Sugru is a moldable silicone rubber that cures into shape in about 24 hours.  I've been hearing about Sugru for a couple years now as an amazing "fix it all" product, but I'd never had occasion to work with it. I finally order some last week. Here's how it comes:

So here's what I did:

And the final product:

Sugru cures in 24 hours, though they advise thicker forms may need additional time. I gave it 3 days, it is perfect. The bumper is solid, but not rock hard - ideal for being durable while absorbing repeated impacts. The second bumper I made using Sugru wasn't as pretty, but it totally works. We'll see how these sugru bumpers handle their next flight for Lindy Focus.

It was $22 for 8 packets from Amazon. That comes to $2.75 per bumper. Not bad, right? Also, I'll be watching as the other bumpers begin to crack over time, and see if Sugru might be helpful in repairing them before they fall off. 

Of course, the US-made Calton cases in current production don't use these bumpers any more, so they don't have that problem. As for me, when I had a case made for my ES-150, I went with Hoffee Cases. Expect a review of the Hoffee sometime soon. 


Chord Melody Transcription - Sunday

I've been working on chord-melody playing for the last couple months, and occasionally posting some of the tunes on our youtube channel, One of the most common comments on those videos is a request for another chord melody lesson and/or a transcription. 

I recorded and posted this video of "Sunday" yesterday, and I was able to crank out a rough transcription this afternoon. I wanted to get something up asap, since I tend to start, but then never finish, stuff like that. So, here's a tabbed-out transcription of the head of the tune. 

Here's a link to a PDF. At some point, I'll try to sketch out the second, ad-lib chorus. Cheers.


NGD: 1932 Epiphone De Luxe

So, I've been cyberstalking every guitar store that deals in acoustic archtops for a couple months looking for a 16" L-5, or at least that was the theoretical goal. The very best examples of acoustic archtop I've ever played were the few '28-29 L-5's I've played, along with Joe Vinikow's personal 16" walnut-backed broadway, and John Collins' D'Angelico Excel. I also hadn't played a bad 20's L-5, although I'm sure they're out there. There was also a wonderful 40's Deluxe owned by my friend that owns the acoustic music store in Denver. I had an idea that a 20's L-5 would be a good match, but I also knew that not having owned any vintage acoustic archtops, I had a lot to learn.

I picked up the 1935 Gibson L-12 I posed about previously, because I spotted a good deal, and indicia that the guitar would be something special (super light weight, a ton of play wear). But I also was interested in learning about what an "advanced", x-braced guitar would sound and feel like. Well, after dialing in the strings gauges to really make the guitar sing, it's been a very interesting and inspiring learning process. I've been so inspired to play solo guitar, chord-melody type stuff, and it's because the guitar is it's own orchestra. Deep bass, nice treble zing, and sustain. Of course, even with those strengths, it has drawbacks. One small complaint are the tuners and frets - nothing worse than playing chord melody and just one random fret here or there is just out of tune enough to drive you crazy! 

Still, the most intresting thing to learn was how amazing that guitar sounds alone, or in a duo or trio context, compared to how it sounds in a band with a full rhythm section. The L-12's rich bass is unnecessary when playing with a bass player, and the sustain and nice treble are lost when playing with drums and horns. It's as if the guitar simply disappears in a band. Since I do almost all of my playing with rhythm sections and horns, I could tell that the L-12 was not going to be "THE" guitar for me. That said, I can tell that this specific L-12 is a great one, and it's something I will keep for a long time. At home, alone, I tend to find it the most satisfying to play because it's so balanced. 

So, learning from that, I figured I would be better suited to something on the "punchier" edge of the spectrum: Epiphones (which are all parallel-braced) and parallel-braced Gibsons. If nothing else, I had a great sounding chord melody guitar I could keep, and so I figured I should be looking for more of a rhythm and single-note cannon. And so I kept cyberstocking.

I noticed Lark Street music listed a 1931 Epiphone De Luxe that looked awfully familiar. I recognized it as my friend Ted's guitar, so I checked with him about it. He's known me and my playing for 10 years, and he said this would be the perfect guitar for me, and that it easily beat out a 16" L-5. After a bit more research, I found the archived listing Fine Vintage Instruments Online from when Ted bought it. (1932 Epiphone Deluxe) Anyway, I got a 48 hour approval period, and Ted basically intimated he'd buy it back from me if I didn't love it, so I couldn't say no with such guarantees. 

I had the guitar shipped directly to my favorite local music store/repair shop, Westwood Music, so I could have them look at it and adjust it if need be. I brought the L-12 along for comparison. 

I'm gonna be honest here - I hated it. 

I took a couple of days to play the thing constantly, changing strings and gauges, and it took until the 11th hour before I would have to send it back, but then it clicked with me. I think, partially, the guitar was dealing with some issues related to the travel and climate (it was unusually humid in Los Angeles when it arrived), and the guitar didn't feel "open". However, I came to realize that such a guitar is an entirely different animal than the L-12, and the L-12 had set my expectations wrong. The joke I've been making is that I felt that "This apple is such a crappy orange!" 

I decided to keep the guitar and took it with me to Lincoln Center and Beantown, and used the opportunity to guitar shop while I was in those fine cities. What was very satisfying was how the De Luxe stood up to even the fanciest of guitars. However, because I hadn't had a gig where I could compare the performance of the L-12 to the De Luxe, I couldn't fully appreaciate the De Luxe. 

Then after we got back, I had a wedding gig where I was stuck playing drums. Fortunately our good friend Craig Gildner was in town on vacation and agreed to cover the guitar chair. He didn't bing a guitar with him, but of course, I had guitars he could use, HA! Anyway, I had the perspective of sitting on the drum throne listening to him alternate between the De Luxe and the L-12, and it was perfectly clear how perfect the De Luxe sounded in a band context. The rhythm chords jumped, chord melody solos jumped, single notes jumped! And the L-12 disappeared by comparison. Before the band started, I had to do an hour of solo-guitar on the patio by myself, and I used the L-12, and it sounded profoundly good. So, it's not to say that the L-12 doesn't have it's uses. However, for most of what I do, the De Luxe is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Anyway, here's a video review of the guitar, and I hope you enjoy it:


NGD: 1935 Gibson L-12

Without pickguard, as arrived.

So, I find myself in the market for a serious vintage acoustic archtop, and I've been cyberstalking every pre-war Gibson or Epiphone on the internet for weeks. Nothing wrong with my Eastman (quite the contrary, it's been providing a benchmark many of the vintage axes I play fail to meet), but it's time (financially and logistically) to invest in a serious, real-deal vintage guitar. 

Now I've been at a loss for what exactly I want in such a guitar, other than it being something truly special sounding. Does that mean 16" or 17"? Parallel- or X-braced? Gibson or Epiphone? I'm not 100% sure. It has to be something really open and resonant - something that speaks to me. 

I was focused mostly on a 16" Gibson L-5, because several of the best guitars I've ever played have been 20's L-5's. However, I was also open to something like a 30's Walnut-backed Epiphone Broadway, because those can be really cannons, and even open to something like an Epiphone Deluxe or Emperor. I also didn't want to exclude a 30's advanced 17" Gibsons, because not having played very many, I couldn't really say if it was something I wold dig or not. 

I'd been watching everything online very carefully, and was pretty pissed when I saw a great looking 16" L5 get sold in a matter a couple days after listing from a music store in Kansas, and every other 16" L5 was either refinished, renecked, or had a replacement fingerboard, or was a signed Lloyd Loar and this absurdly expensive. Now, while a guitar with major work, or a refin, or whatever could still be awesome sound if done right, but since I couldn't play it first, I was reluctant to drop $8k-$10k even if there was a trial period. I even found a local walnut-backed Broadway, but it would've needed at least a refret, if not a full neck reset. Although it was comparably affordable, I was worried about the guitar being a money pit. 

Well, I was watching an ebay listing for a 1935 Gibson L-12, which is a 17" advanced, X-braced guitar. The guitar had fail to sell once because the reserve was not met. On the second go-around, there was little to no attention being paid to the guitar and the price was very low. The thing that struck me the most was the ridiculous playwear on the back of the neck - clearly that guitar had been played a lot, and for decades. I watched the auction during dinner on my phone, and managed to snipe it manually for below what the previous auction had ended at, and a good $500-$1000 under value. I was a little hesitant to buy the guitar without having played it, but there was a 24-hour return period, and at worst, I'd be out the shipping. 

Well, it arrived today, and the first thing I noticed was how light the package was. Turns out the play wear was only one of the telltale signs of a great acoustic archtop, this guitar was super light too. Awesome. I was so excited I un-boxed in my mailbox place. I put the bridge on, and slowly brought the strings up to tension, and was immediately pleasantly surprised. I brought it home, futzed with the bridge placement slightly, and was greated by an amazingly open, resonant, singing guitar - every bit what a pre-war, X-braced 17" archtop should be. Check out the back of the neck:

I was taking a webcam video to show a friend, and just decided to a full review and playing demo on it. So check it out. 

Since recording the video, I learned that this guitar definitely has a maple neck. I thought mahogany necks were one of the features separating L5's from the lesser L-12 and L-7, but that only turns out to be true of 16", pre-advanced models. However, there are mahogany examples of 17" L7's and L12's, but those are less common.

Also, I threw at set of 13's on the guitar and had it set up. Unfortunately, after a couple of days it was crystal clear that it was just not working with 13's on it. Going back to 12's (of course with a 13/18 pair swapped in on top), and the guitar came back to life. The 13's felt and sounded like they were throttling the guitar, and almost over driving the top, rather than making it sing freely. I still believe in using the heaviest strings you can, but I'd add using the heaviest strings that sound good on your guitar. This was clearly a case where 12's were perfectly sufficient to make the top move.

Since this guitar was only a 3rd of what I'd budgeted for my "investment", I have some options. I could trade this toward something like an L5, or I could keep it, and look for something else, like perhaps the more reasonably priced Epiphone line to have something that contrasts the L-12, or who knows. 

I'm just excited to get to play a really open-sounding 80-year-old guitar for right now, and learn as much as I can about the sound of 17" X-braced Gibsons. 

UPDATE: Here's what it looks like with a repro-pickguard from



The Internet Archive saves Charlie Christian sites!

Hey, so I like to think of myself as relatively computer savvy, but it never occurred to me to try looking for Gary Hansen's lost Charlie Christian website using the Internet Archive... until this morning. It occurred to me because the other GREAT Charlie Christian website, Leo Valdes's Solo Flight, has now disappeared. 

So, may I present to you... working links for the internet's two best sources of Charlie Christian content, and two sites that were absurldy important for my development as a Swing Guitar player:

Gary Hansen's Charlie Christian Site (via - featuring many transcriptions in both notes and tab, and lessons on the "geometric" pattern-based playing of Charlie Christian

Leo Valdes's Solo Flight (via - featuring many transcriptions and other resources, most notable for it's alternative theories on Charlie's fingerings of certain patters. Some of them make perfect sense, others not so much. Still, it's a valueable resource. 


New Gear: National Style 1 Tricone in Vintage Silver

I'm not gonna lie: John Reynolds is my hero. Always has been, probably always will be. 

John Reynolds plays a National. A Tricone National. 

Ever since I had a lesson with John 15 years ago, I've always wanted a National. Even my wife, who is usually against any additions to the guitar colelction, would always agree that I should have one someday. Well, just before Christmas, a bunch of things came together, and I got my wish. 

I had resisted the urge to buy one of the suprisingly decent Republic resonators guitar when they came out a couple years ago, because every time I compared one to a National, there was no question that a real National just had "it", and the Republic was an ok copy, but it wasn't magic the way a National is. I had also decided to wait for a Tricone, specifically a Style 1 (the plainest metal-bodied one), even though I did also enjoy the brasher and louder tone of a Style 0 Single-Cone. John was kind enough to lend me is ~1930 National Style 0 Single-Cone for a gig, which I definitely kept longer than I should have - it was too fun to give back!!!1

Anyway, I just happened to see an ebay listing for a barely used 2012 Style 1, and this one wasn't made of the regular brass, but rather of "German Silver" which is an alloy even closer to the original 20's-30's Nationals. Now, I personally think the National Guitars made in San Luis Obispo in the modern era are easily every bit a great sounding as the original ones (let's face it, metal doesn't age like wood does!), and the standard brass alloy sounds fantastic - but the "German Silver" is even warmer soudning and weighs slightly less (it's still pretty damn heavy, though). 

Though the guitar didn't make it in time to open Christmas morning, once it arrived, I was delighted to find that it was every bit as good as I'd always wanted. Here's a couple videos of me playing it. Enjoy.

"All of Me"

"Blue Skies"


Guitar Volume Knob Positions and Charlie Christian-type Tone

Over at the Just Jazz Guitar boards, there has been an ongoing thread about "Oscar Moore" tone, and I would chime in from time to time on it. Tim Lerch recently posted about his observations on the effect of the guitar volume knob position as it relates to the tone of the amp. He wrote:

"It is my belief that back in the day the players would almost never have the volume knob on their guitars all the way up, they would often run them quite low in the half way up range. This changed the quality of the sound quite a bit allowing them to get a cleaner slightly brighter tone than would result if they had played on full." (See his specific post, and the rest of the thread HERE)

I had noticed something similar, but I always seemed to need my volume knob all the way up to get sufficient stage volume. After seeing someone else observe it, I did some playing, and I tend to agree completely. 

I decided the best way to show you what I was hearing was to make video demoing different volume knob positions. Enjoy.

And here's a bonus clip of me just playing through a bit of "It's Only a Paper Moon":


Gift Guide: Picks (and ruminations on picks and setup)

As the holidays approach and you're looking for something to get the guitar players in your life (or get yourself!), here's some suggestions, along with some thoughts about the sublime, yet somewhat ridiculous, universe of guitar picks.

If you look through online discussion forums, or youtube video reviews, there is a lot time spent discussing picks. On the one hand, the guitar pick itself is an incredibly small part of the equation, and they are essentially fungible, on the other, they can be a very important part of one's tone and playing technique. Just like every other part of one's tone chain, from the strings, to the setup, to one's instrument, to the amplification (if any), they can make all the difference, and yet are often never the magic bullet.

I've spent the better part of 14 years trying to figure out the "perfect" guitar pick for Swing Guitar. At first, when sheer acoustic volume was the top concern, the revelation that was the 5mm Wegen Fatone was such a giant leap over the alternatives (Big Stubby's and the like) that it was like we'd all found the secret. Even John Reynolds was using one and singing it's praises. Over the course of the next 8 or so years, I experimented with all many variations, including Red Bear, the Wegen Button, and even the gigantic 7mm Wegen! Toward the end of that phase I started tapering down, from the 5mm Wegen to the 3.5mm, and eventually to the 2.5mm. My observation at the time was that what the small picks lacked in sheer volume, they made up for in clarity of tone.

Eventually, I found myself in possession of a real tortoise-shell pick, repurposed from an antique of some kind. The quality of tone was significantly different than anything I'd used before, and I recognized it as the perfect blend of clarity and warmth. Of course, since this was a rare thing to have, there weren't "options" as to the thickness or shape, and since it was maybe a 1mm pick at most, it did begin to warp slightly with general use.

At this point I made yet another valuable observation: what sounds or feels best in one context is not necessarily what sounds or feels best in another. I tried using the tortoise pick on gigs, and sometimes it did not have sufficient thickness or stiffness to project in the given situation. Now, perhaps proper monitors would have been better than changing the pick, but we're not always in control of things like that. In cases where I needed to dig in more, I found myself switching picks to something heavier.

By now, I'd slimmed down to the 1.2mm Wegen from the 1.4mm Wegen, and had picked up several faux-tortoise alternatives which I was testing out. But then came yet another revelation: the magic of a proper guitar setup. I've written about this here before, but having my guitar truly and properly set up was life-changing. I had always assumed that very high action was necessary for sufficient acoustic volume and response. Consequently, you might need a thicker pick to wrangle such high strung strings. But, having a guitar that finds the perfect balance between projection and playability, allows one to play with better technique, less effort, and better, purer tone.

This shift again had me re-evaluating picks. I started trying out anything I could, just to see if it would sound good. I noticed fascinating differences between the tones each pick would produce. Even the difference between a standard Fender Heavy to a similarly sized Dunlop of various materials was noticeable if you were listening. Surprisingly, I noticed that the generic Heavy pick  had a tone that, on my Franken-150, reminded me distinctly of Charlie Christian. Who knew, right? There was just some magic combination of thickness, material and bevel that had a similar character.

But those really are the big three factors determining the tone of a guitar pick: material, thickness and tip shap/bevel. Harder picks, thinner picks, and sharply pointed or beveled picks were all brighter in different ways. Softer, thicker picks with a more rounded tips and bevels were all warmer. However, each factor changed the character in different ways, almost at different frequencies - so dialing in the perfect pick was finding a balance of all the factors, along with finding a pick that felt comfortable in your hand and either bent or didn't bend according to your preferences. When a pick starts to bend, it feels like a flat tire to me - essentially acting as a limiter: no matter how much harder you pick, you get no additional volume. I'm sure somebody out there enjoys the flex of thin or medium pick, but definitely not me. Add to that last point about flexibility, the fact that the final variable is your sound in the room/amplification. If you can't hear yourself well, and the pick is giving in, you will end up picking super hard with nothing to show for it.

After years, here's what I've decided against:

Giant Wegens: I still have one of each in my gear bag, just in case. I'm sure there might be a situation at some point where I might need the big ones to get through the gig, but for normal playing they are too much. Like cranking the action unnecessarily high, they end up just bashing the strings. Also, since they hit so hard, you kind of need higher action to keep them from mashing the strings into the fretboard and buzzing.

Red Bear: The high cost and custom nature of these picks makes them something I skip over. They ARE awesome picks, but it's almost impossible to experiment to find the right one. 

D'Andrea Pro-Plec: Faux-tortoise from the company that invented the celluloid guitar pick. However, I find the material to be far too soft, and thus the tone is dull. Adding my own bevel, just thinned the body out of the pick, rather than adding brightness. 

V-Pick: I tried several, and they never had enough warmth or body, and depending on the tip shape they could be entirely shrill. 

Alternative Natural Materials: horn, rock, wood, bone - all were either too hard and shrill, or too soft and dull. No good.


John Pearse Fat Turtles: These come in three sizes, 1.2mm, 2.5mm and 4.0mm, but have a non-symmetrical shape and huge depression in the middle. The don't come with much a bevel, so I always found that I needed to add one in. But, aside from not being my perfect match, they are excellent, and if you add the right bevel, they are fat and warm without being dull. 

Standard Celluloid 351 Heavy: Believe it or not, a standard heavy guitar pick often sounds really good in this style. I found that the slighty "click" provided by the house -brand pick really added to the Charlie-ness of the tone. Similarly, the standard Fender sounded excellent on my Eastman. The weakness is, of course, flexibility. Because of their relative thinness (compared to a 2mm-5mm pick), they only really worked for me in quiet settings, like playing at home. 

My FOUR go-to picks:

Blue Chip TD40: (1mm) I was killing some time in a music-store in Boulder, CO, and the owner ended up being really helpful about recommending a place where I could rent a suitable amp. I felt bad I'd taken up so much of his time, and was trying to find something I could buy, but he didn't carry my preferred string brands. He just happened to carry these, and despite being pretty damn expensive, he was cool with me playing it for a second first. I have to say that it was the best feeling pick I've ever played. The bevel is perfect and the tone produced on my Eastman is ideal. I never have to think about it, and it just feels right. My execution is more exact, and I can play things I might not otherwise be able to pull off. The only down side is that it is a touch to bright/twangy for my ES-150/EH-185 combo - as a result of hearing that twanginess, some of my standard lines sound more "western" than "swing", and while I dig that kind of thing, it's not what I'm trying to do in the Campus Five. Last bonus, I've been playing one consistently for months and there is little to no wear apparent. Just don't loose it!

Wegen 1.2mm AND1.4mm: I keep both of these around, the heavier one for playing my LeVoi, and the lighter one as an all purpose back up. Django-type guitars often need a bit thicker/rounder pick to add body, and the 1.4mm has a good balance of tone for my guitar. The 1.2m sounds good on all the guitars, and has less give when I need to play hard, so if I'm struggling and my pick isn't helping out, I'll switch to the 1.2mm. That said, at that thinness, the softness of the material becomes apparent, and sometimes there can be "feathering", burs of the material become raised and have to filed off. 

JB Picks 1.5mm RB: I quite like all of the options of JB Picks, and they're actually pretty reasonably priced. The 1mm sounds wonderful on my Eastman at home, and they're all around good picks in a nice faux-tortoise. The "twang" problem on my ES-150 is perfectly remedied by the fatness of the thicker 1.5mm with the default rounded bevel. The round bevel also contributes a welcome "click" to the attack that is reminiscent of Charlie. 

All that work, and I still have to carry around FOUR different picks. Of course, I still find myself vacillating back and forth between some of the options. Especially with the JBs because there are 1mm, 1.2mm and 1.5mm sizes with optional bevels. Sometimes, the brightness of the bevel is nice, but sometimes it's too much. I've been experimenting with the slightly thicker TD50 (1.25mm) on my ES-150 hoping for a bit more body. Perhaps I need to go all the way the ~1.5mm TD60. Oh - when does it end?! 
But seriously, I think there's a lot of great options in picks, but you really have to find what works best for your instrument, set up, strings, etc, and just what sounds and feels good in your hands. I doubt you could go wrong with my all-purpose pick of a 1.2mm Wegen, or the Blue Chip TD40 on an archtop. They're both great, and the line of JB picks is reasonably priced enough that you can experiment a bit with out spending a ton per pick. 


Video Lesson: Allan Reuss-Style Chord-Melody Soloing

I thought I'd something a bit different and do a video lesson rather than an article, this time about my favorite unsung guitar hero: Allan Reuss. 

There are so few resources available on Allan Reuss-style chord melody soloing that I figured I would share my take his style, and how I came to learn it, as well as sharing some insights into the hallmarks of his style. 

I mention two resources in the video that I wanted to provide links to:

1) Ivor Mairants: The Great Jazz Guitarists Part 1. Beside the transcription of Allan Reuss' solo on the 1936 recording of "If I Could Be with You" with Benny Goodman, there are some transcriptions of Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, Carl Kress and George Van Eps. 

2) Rich Werden's Transcription of "Bye Bye Blues". Transcribing this tune escaped me for 15 years, and then my friend Rich does all the work, and even publishes for all to see. I truly think this is Allan's finest acheivement. While you're at it, you should probably buy the CD "The Complete Benny Carter on Keynote" - which contains not only the transcendant master take of "Bye Bye Blues", but also two alternate takes.